We Need to Talk About Kevin (R, 2011, Oscilloscope)
We don’t know what Kevin (Ezra Miller) did, but it’s jarringly clear he did something. And with complete strangers striking his mother (Tilda Swinton as Eva) on the sidewalk and calling her a murderer, it’s a safe bet he did something bad. Set along two primary timelines — one post-incident and one that flashes back to a younger Kevin’s (first Rock Duer, then Jasper Newell) coming into being — “We Need to Talk About Kevin” eventually meets itself in the middle and reveals all. But with considerable respect to Miller’s portrayal as the Kevin who purportedly does something terrible, “Kevin’s” out-and-out most unsettling scenes take place in the past, where a rattled Eva faces off against a younger Kevin whom doctors swear is normal but whose stoic, silent contempt most definitely does not feel normal. The need to know what ultimately happened is all “Kevin” even needs to make its case as compelling entertainment. But even if that’s all you care about, the road to that revelation — paved several times over with frayed nerves and looks that could kill — is too unnerving to make that anticipation feel like a wait. John C. Reilly, as Kevin’s father, also stars.
Extras: 30-minute behind-the-scenes feature, interviews, additional footage from the opening scene.
Perfect Sense (R, 2011, IFC Films)
It starts with a sudden and furious bout of grief, and if it hits you, there’s no escaping or overcoming it until it’s ready to pass. Once it does, though, it’s your sense of smell — which we take for granted both as a utility and an emotional trigger all its own — is gone. That’s the origins of the contagion creeping into the population in “Perfect Sense,” which takes the virus movie blueprint and converts it into a staggering allegory for the things we really lose when our bodies betray us. In the pit of “Sense’s” stomach is the story of how Susan (Eva Green), a scientist frantically racing to decipher the disease as it moves past smell and into people’s other senses, meets Michael (Ewan McGregor), a charming but womanizing chef whose livelihood takes on new function as the purpose of food itself shifts from delicacy to utility. But some of “Sense’s” most lasting images come courtesy of characters with no name, who flash past as the movie quickly darts around the world while it walks through the symptoms of another fading sense. The obvious point — that we’re all, far and wide, kind of the same in some fundamental way — could have so easily devolved into soulless, preachy pretension. But “Sense” is too raw and too dialed into its characters (nameless or not) to even sniff such pretension. Nor, thankfully, is it some maudlin lesson from Hollywood about how precious the little things are in life. “Sense,” which is oddly celebratory if it’s any one ruling thing, is equipped to take you to those conclusions, but the respect it shows in not dragging you there makes all the difference in the world.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Coriolanus (R, 2011, Anchor Bay)
One need not be presumptuous to presume this updated retelling of “Coriolanus” — William Shakespeare’s tragedy about the rise and fall of a real-life fifth century Roman general — arrives with a point to make. Fortunately, one also need not be generous to enjoy “Coriolanus” in spite of its inability — whether by design or simply by falling short — to do any such thing. “Coriolanus” applies Shakespeare’s words to a fictional, contemporary and war-ravaged Rome, which watches its feared and revered general (Ralph Fiennes, who also directs, as Caius Martius Coriolanus) succumb to the will of a power-hungry mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and eventually the countrymen who once feared him. Expelled from the place he ruled and hungry for revenge, Coriolanus attempts to ally with the man (Gerard Butler as Tullus Aufidius) who previously was his archenemy, and off we go. “Coriolanus” provides yet another testament to the timelessness of Shakespeare’s concepts and conflicts. And that, along the novelty of generals, insurgents and cable news anchors evoking 16th century language while wielding 21st century assault rifles and teleprompters, will have to do. If there’s a message about modern-day politics and war in “Coriolanus,” it’s so flat as to be invisible. But the story about the angry general who raises total hell in a snarling, screaming attempt to get back at his mom? It resonates, furiously and fantastically, and needs absolutely no accompanying fable to justify its entertaining existence.
Extras: Fiennes commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.
The Jungle Bunch (NR, 2012, Universal)
For reasons we never will know, Maurice grew up in the jungle instead of the arctic and is convinced he’s a tiger instead of a penguin. Furthermore, he carries around a fishbowl with a goldfish he claims is his son and protege, and he is orange and striped like a tiger. (Paint? Genetic anomaly? Anyone’s guess.) But rather than dismiss him as a nut, Maurice’s jungle friends believe not only that he a tiger, but a great warrior tiger whose punches and kicks could make Chuck Norris run home to mom. Somehow, that legend traveled all the way to the arctic, where a colony of penguins, facing threats from a mob of walruses who want their food, have sent two of their own to the jungle to request his services. Maurice, who has no idea what a walrus even is, happily obliges. Cute, right? In fact it is. In the suddenly large annals of computer-animated talking animal movies, “The Jungle Bunch” doesn’t stand as any kind of remarkable achievement. But considering how absolutely grating and faux-edgy so many of those movies are, the simple fact that the silly-and-proud-of-it “Bunch” is wholly pleasant from start to finish makes it easy to recommend. The only arguable knock is the short 58-minute length. But that also keeps “Bunch” focused on its story instead of worthless pop-culture references and other filler, and if you want more, the 26 shorts in the extras are good for another 40-plus minutes.
Extras: The aforementioned shorts.
Goon (R, 2011, Magnolia)
Doug (Seann William Scott) isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but as abysmally socially awkward bouncers go, he’s a very special talent. That becomes crystal clear to a minor league hockey coach when, during a game, a stray taunt from his best friend (Jay Baruchel) inspires a player to crash the stands, wail on Doug, and make nary a dent before Doug politely but efficiently knocks him out with one counterpunch. One phone call later, Doug — who can barely even skate — is in pads at practice. “Goon,” in essence, is like “Rookie of the Year,” only instead of a charming kid winning the World Series with his magical arm, it’s a socially backward hockey enforcer punching people’s teeth in during minor league hockey games that may or may not end victoriously. “Goon” itself marches to a similar rhythm — sort of clumsily paced as it veers between dumb, cute, dark and dry, but earnest enough to make its rough edges endearing and smart enough to capture both its sport and the pains of social anxiety in a heartfelt but not always flattering light. It’s not quite “Slap Shot,” but it plays in that same ballpark, and that’s no easy feat. Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill and Eugene Levy also star.
Extras: Director/Baruchel commentary, Power Play Mode (which bundles 45 minutes’ worth of behind-the-scenes features and interviews behind an optional overlay the pops up while you watch the movie), deleted scenes, Baruchel/Scott interview, two standalone behind-the-scenes features.
The Aggression Scale (R, 2012, Anchor Bay)
It is mind-meltingly amazing that 21 years had to pass before someone escorted “Home Alone’s” adorable sadism all the way down the rabbit hole. But when an out-on-bail mob boss (Ray Wise) orders his minions (Dana Ashbrook, Derek Mears) to recover money stolen from him so he can fund an escape from his prison sentence, the murderous hunt brings those henchmen to the front door of Bill (Boyd Kestner), whose son (Ryan Hartwig as Owen) was curiously released into his father’s custody despite a track record of disturbing and violent behavior. Nothing can explain how a mob boss charged with murder is free on bail, but you probably can guess what Bill used to persuade the powers that be to keep his son out of an institution. In any event, the only facts that matter are that Owen is deranged, dangerously creative and, upon arrival of the uninvited guests, justifiably motivated to make their stay as horrifically unpleasant as possible. “The Aggression Scale,” like “Home Alone,” frequently (but knowingly) plays like an elaborate excuse to blow off some violent steam for a righteous cause. There is nothing playful about what Owen and his adversaries set out to do to each other, nor does “Scale” culminate with a sweet scene about the meaning of Christmas. But as is finally demonstrable here, there are advantages to presenting payback without the cute strings attached. Nothing about “Scale” is the least bit amusing, but that doesn’t mean it won’t send you home smiling.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Silver Tongues (NR, 2011, Virgil Films)
“Silver Tongues” is the story of Rachel (Emily Meade) and Alex (Tate Ellington), a pair of newlyweds going out to dinner on their honeymoon. Or rather, that’s what “Tongues” appears to be about until Rachel and Alex, needing a table, run into another couple (Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham as Gerry and Joan, respectively), who offer to share their table before turning the couple’s young marriage upside down and subsequently hijacking their movie. This development complicates things considerably, because there’s no easy way to explain who Gerry and Joan are and what they’re up to. Even their own movie, whether it can’t or simply won’t, declines to make the effort. “Tongues'” synopsis describes its star couple as a pair roving from town to town playing a game of deception that, eventually, catches up to them. But why? “Tongues” doesn’t even allude to a reason, and even assuming they’re in it for the thrill means taking a leap through some baffling gaps of logic. A little opacity is hardly a bad thing: If nothing else, it gives people something to speculate about after the credits roll. But the window into “Tongues'” soul is sealed and obscured by a need for all involved — from Gerry to Joan to their marks and the filmmakers who put their story together — to be aggressively cloy to the point of exhaustion. Character motivations count for precious little when those characters so vigilantly keep the audience at arm’s length and then some.
Extras: Two short films, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes feature.
Man on a Ledge (PG-13, 2012, Summit Entertainment)
On a morning like any other, Nick (Sam Worthington) checks into a hotel, heads upstairs to his room and promptly steps out onto the ledge, bringing midtown Manhattan to a standstill. Why’s he out there? A flashback (no spoilers) to a month prior provides a little insight, and the reasons trickle in from there. Then they march in, and before long, it’s a tidal wave of characters, contrivances and turn-offs. “Man on a Ledge’s” simple title and early opacity point to an intriguing mystery waiting to unravel, but the more it opens its mouth, the faster that intrigue seeps out. By the end, “Ledge” is so deeply mired in muddled dumb thriller territory that it’s hard to even care how it ends, much less withstand the pages of laughably bad dialogue needed to get there. Elizabeth Banks, Jamie Bell, Anthony Mackie and Ed Harris also star.
Extras: behind-the-scenes feature, Banks commentary on the trailer (no, seriously).